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VIRUS FEVER... We can expect the birth of 600 new computer viruses by the end of 1991, according to the latest statistics from the National Computer Security Association. This dramatic jump from approximately 150 strains identified last year suggests that an incubation period of almost two year may be required between authorship and release. A recent NCSA report claims this soaring growth will probably continue until computer viruses are so numerous they start intefering with each other.

TUNING IN PCs... The FCC is expected to take a year to rule on a request from Apple Computer to dedicate part of the radio spectrum so that computers could communicate via a wireless network. Apple's proposal, called Data Personal Communications Service, is asking for communications on 40 megahertz of radio frequency bandwidth to be used by all computer companies. The frequency would allow computers to transmit 10 million bits of data per second -- the equivalent of a 500-page book -- over a distance of about 150 ft. Apple's CEO John Sculley predicts wireless LANs "will change the nature of information tools, making them as mobile and spontaneous as the individuals using them."

IT'S ALIVE... New life has been breathed into the High-Performance Computing Act which was rumored dead after last year's budget wars. Al Gore (D-Tenn.) has reintroduced the bill in the Senate and recruited Rep. George Brown (D-Calif.) to take the 1991 version to the House. The act calls for the creation of a high-speed fiber optic network linking millions of computers in academia, government and industry nationwide. It would provide $650 million to the NSF and $338 million to NASA for fiscal years through 1996. Says Gore: "If we are going to build an economy strong enough to grow in an information age dominated by high technology and tough foreign competitors, these are investments we must make now."

IMPRESSIVE START... In related Hill news, Rep. George Brown (D-Calif.), new chair of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, is making U.S. competitiveness a top priority. The outspoken Brown told Washington Technology he intends to pursue a vigorous effort around the theme of advanced technologies, calling the Bush Administration's technology policy efforts timid at best. He also plans to address remolding NASA and the space program, properly funding university research, and spiriting efforts of such critical technologies as supercomputing and high-definition television.

GOOD NEWS, BAD NEWS.. The good news is that Italy is fast becoming a prominent market in the computer industry, having enjoyed record hardware sales in the past 18-plus months. The bad news is that the same country is suffering multi-million dollar losses due to software piracy. A report from the Italian market research firm--Assinform--determined a 14% growth in the country's information technology market by year-end 1989; with the PC sector alone boasting a 45% increase. However, market losses blamed on software piracy totalled $768 million, making Italy second only to Germany in terms of the most pirated country in Europe.

DISCOS OF THE '90s... New York City's zoning codes will have to be amended before a proposal to build an enormous computer-game parlor gets the nod. Intertainment Projects Ltd. has requested permission to develop a sophisticated high-tech playhouse featuring the latest in interactive entertainment and virtual reality technology. The firm envisions a facility with a capacity of 1,500 patrons and as many as 400 playing at a time. Designed for adults, the place would open at 5 p.m., post a $30 cover charge, and serve finger food and cocktails. A city subcommittee is considering retooling current zoning laws since they do not account for computer game establishments.

GAS-SAVING APPLICATIONS... Increasing the use of telecommunications in the U.S. could save billions of dollars in environmental, energy and transportation and maintenance costs, according to a report issued by technology consultants Arthur D. Little, Inc., Cambridge, Mass. The study estimates $24 billion in annual benefits if 10-20% of activities currently requiring transportation are performed by telecommunications. Increasing the use of this technology would also eliminate at least 1.8 million tons of pollutants, save 3.5 billion gallons of gas, and free up 3.1 billion personal hours for increased productivity or leisure time.

SUCCESSFUL TRIP... A solution to the infamous traveling salesman problem (TSP) has been drawn by two mathematicians from Purdue University and Du Pont Co. The classic TSP--to determine the shortest or least costly route for a salesman to travel to visit a set number of cities and then return to his starting point having never retraced his steps--has defied mathematicians worldwide for hundreds of years. In turn, the TSP represents important unsolved scientific and engineering problems. The new algorithm, which gives an exact answer to some types of TSPs but not all, may have several industrial/engineering applications. The mathematicians detailed their findings in Science last February.

OOPS EFFORTS... A joint project to demonstrate the feasibility of using object-oriented technology to perform complex scientific simulations has been formed by MCC, Sandia National Laboratories and the Institute for Advanced Technology of the University of Texas. The simulation program being developed for this proof of principle demonstration is a version of the CTH production code used to perform complex simulations of the behavior of solid materials struck by a hypervelocity projectile. Last year the DoD listed hypervelocity projectiles on its Critical Technologies Plan for the 1990s.

FUNGUS FINDERS... For centuries French merchants have used specially trained dogs and pigs to sniff out the black Perigord truffle. Sprouted from tree roots, these pungent underground delicacies retail for more than $600 per pound. With demand now surpassing supply, the industry is foregoing tradition and looking for help from computerized truffle trackers. A biochemist at the University of Manchester's Institute of Science and Technology has recorded a 75% success rate in finding fungi buried as deeply as 10 inches--using an electronic scanner that detects the chemical compounds created by the truffle's aroma. French scientists are also working on a sensing device they hope will be small enough to carry on the shoulder and less expensive than the upkeep of a dog.
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Publication:Communications of the ACM
Date:Apr 1, 1991
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